By Jillian Diamond and Selah Maya Zighelboim
Howard Goldstein’s family bought an apartment in Ashkelon six years ago, made aliyah to Israel in April of this year and has been moving back and forth between Israel and Baltimore ever since. While Goldstein was not in the Jewish state during the Oct. 7 attacks, he returned to Israel later that week to aid his neighbors in Ashkelon.
“I took the first ticket I could get,” said the 66-year-old, whose family attends Suburban Orthodox Congregation while stateside.
Goldstein is one of many Baltimoreans, both in Israel and in the United States, who have been engaged in volunteer work and projects in support of Israel during this time of war.
Goldstein’s family has not permanently moved to Israel because their two children are currently in high school, but he said that he has been volunteering on and off in the six years they have been living there part-time.
Goldstein’s responsibilities as a volunteer post-Oct. 7 have included a variety of responsibilities. He’s helped provide meals for hospital workers, eventually working with other volunteers to set up a supply chain for food to be sent to hospital staff. He has also collected and distributed food, books and toys for children with family serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
Ashkelon, due to its proximity to the Gaza Strip, has been experiencing a period of heightened danger. Its hospital, Barzilai Hospital, has been struck by rockets three times since Israel’s fight against Hamas started, and emergency alarms go off frequently.
“I told my friend that my serenity has vanished,” Goldstein said. “I think it’s important to say that no one is OK, every family is affected. There is no one in Israel who is not involved.”
While he acknowledges that donating to charities providing aid in Israel is helpful, Goldstein believes that it is especially important for Americans to travel there directly to engage in hands-on humanitarian work.
“Israelis need to see that they’re not alone. Americans have sent money, but Israelis need to see people go and come back to know they’re truly supported,” he said. “The families that I dealt with were thrilled to see me, and they didn’t even know me. Because I’m able, I think it’s an obligation, and I’m happy to do it.”
Goldstein spoke to the JT from Baltimore, but had already made plans to return to Ashkelon to help out more.
“I can’t wait to go back,” he said.
Challah for Israel
Karen Singer admits that she doesn’t consider herself a good cook, but if there’s one thing she’s good at making, it’s challah. She has been putting those skills to good use by baking 15-20 loaves of challah a day and selling them in exchange for donations to nonprofit organizations supporting Israel.
“I’m not a good cook, but I’ve been told I’m a good challah-maker, and I love to make it,” she said. “I felt like I needed and wanted to do something to be helpful, in addition to just writing a check myself. To literally lend my hands in a way that could help and provide additional resources.”
Singer, 59, launched the Challah Hugs for Israel campaign on Oct. 23 and initially set a goal of baking 100 challah loaves by the end of 2023. Over the span of two weeks, she had already filled over 80 challah orders, with over 150 orders pending.
Challah Hugs is a project that Singer, a Lutherville resident and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation member, has been doing since she first started baking challah in 2019. She would make challah for people in need, whether they actively needed aid or were simply having a hard time emotionally.
“Anyone who needs a Challah Hug can have a Challah Hug,” Singer said. “To receive a Challah Hug, the recipient doesn’t need to have a connection to Israel, but it means a lot if they do.”
Donors receive a loaf of challah for every donation of $36 or more that they make to a charity benefiting Israel. Some have gone a step further, by donating these loaves to local food banks or visiting shinshinim and schlihot.
Singer has also started offering challah-baking lessons for people interested in starting similar initiatives. Some of her friends have begun helping her with her baking workload, with one friend from New Jersey being inspired to start her own Challah Hugs for Israel campaign in her local community.
“I’m literally getting my hands dirty helping Israel, in a way I enjoy and that makes people smile,” Singer noted.
Donations made as part of the Challah Hugs for Israel campaign have gone toward The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s Israel emergency fund, Friends of the IDF and Jewish National Fund, among other organizations.
“I’m helping in a way that feels positive, so it relieves some of my angst,” Singer said of the therapeutic nature of her work, and encouraged that “if you need a challah hug, find me.”
Supporting the Troops
Yossi Kuttler happened to be in Israel when Hamas attacked on Oct. 7. He was in Haifa, in northern Israel, for his brother’s wedding.
Kuttler works as a land steward at Adamah’s Pearlstone retreat center in Reisterstown and attends services at Pikesville Jewish Congregation. He grew up attending Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and going to Ner Tamid.
Kuttler used to serve as a paratrooper in the IDF, so when the war started, he tried to reenlist. However, he wasn’t able to.
“Because I live in America right now, I wasn’t in the reserve system, so I wasn’t able to draft,” Kuttler said. “From that point, I decided that I wanted to stay [in Israel] for as long as I could and just help them out as much as possible, while not being in uniform.”
Instead, Kuttler raised money and bought items such as watches, headlamps and food to bring to IDF troops near the Lebanese border.
The items he has brought to the soldiers has helped boost morale, Kuttler said.
“It’s been meaningful to them to see that there’s people, like the community in Baltimore and Jews around the world, who are looking out for them and want to support them any way they can, and they really appreciate getting all the gear that Jews from around the world are helping to provide for them,” he said.■